Communities, Artifacts, And Rest Help Learners
Imagine that you’re on a road trip across the country of your choosing. Would you want to drive day and night without a pit stop? Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?
Think of the learning journey in the same way. As learning professionals, we are the GPS for our learners. We instruct learners where to go, where to turn, and how to get to their ultimate destination—where learners are able to do something new or something better than they did before starting their learning journeys.
An obstacle for learners in getting to this destination is screen fatigue. As all of us in L&D know well, screens are an essential (and unavoidable) tool for work and learning. For remote and hybrid workers, back-to-back video calls (with few breaks in between) have become the norm. And that can leave our people feeling drained and not as receptive to learning as they could be.
As L&D professionals, the power to direct folks on their learning journey comes with great responsibility. We can use our skills to empathize with our learners so we can accurately guide them and create pit stops for them so their ride is as smooth as possible. With empathy in mind, we can build in breaks and restorative elements (communities, artifacts, and nature) at strategic points of the learning journey to combat screen fatigue. As the learning GPS, we can not only guide but also take care of our learners, which ultimately leads to a win-win for both learners and learning professionals.
What Does Research Tell Us?
Before we dive into the how, let’s look at the landscape of online learning. Studies show there’s been a 60–70% increase  in screen time for adults in the past two years. And on top of that, there’s been a 252% increase  in meeting time since 2020.
Screens are how we catch up with family and friends, exercise, unwind, and, let’s face it, kill time. Adding the additional layer of online learning on top of all that screen time can leave learners feeling a bit like Bill Murray’s character in the movie, Groundhog’s Day, waking up to the same day, every day.
Biggest Challenge In Content Creation
At SweetRush, we were curious about what you—L&D professionals and leaders—had to say about the biggest challenges in our field.
One of the questions we asked was: What are the top content creation challenges that have come up for you in the past 12 months? Both individual contributors and leaders called out “heightening learner engagement and experience” as a top learning creation challenge (#1 for leaders and #3 for individual contributors). “Shifting to learner-centric training (more choice and self-direction)” ranked #2 for leaders and #1 for individual contributors.
Respondents shared their thoughts on why “people are fed up by now with online learning” and pointed to “screen fatigue due to COVID” as a central challenge for learners that creates added pressure on learning professionals.
In the quick pivot to virtual learning, long webinars and online content became the needed temporary fix. But a temporary fix doesn’t have to be permanent—and it shouldn’t be. Not if we’re empathizing with our learners, who say they are exhausted. It’s the perfect time to consider new and creative ways to engage through human-centered and inclusive learning design.
3 Ways To Create Human-Centered Learning
Want to create a learning journey that focuses on the learner and their needs? Consider these approaches that are working for us and our clients. These three tips will create intentional pit stops so you can make sure your learners are primed and ready for their journeys, and they can better absorb what they are learning.
1. Complement Content With Communities
Remote and hybrid learners aren’t lacking content. What they’re lacking, and what many are asking for, is connection. Learning communities can foster the social benefits of in-person learning: collaboration, innovation, and encouragement. They bring together diverse folks to share authentic perspectives.
As part of my SweetRush onboarding, I signed up for a group called 36 Questions. A very small group of colleagues from different departments meets together weekly with the sole purpose of connection. We answer a mix of questions and get to know each other better. This supportive “crew” provides a safe space to share and grow.
How to get started:
- Create a safe practice space for cohorts to learn together. Learners come to the cohort to put their new skills into practice before trying them out in the high-stakes “real world.”
- When possible, include alums of the program as cohort coaches to add another layer to social learning by offering guidance and encouragement.
We used this approach for a global client’s manager learning journey using gamification. Cohorts work through branching scenarios of challenging conversations together in real-time to practice difficult situations that they would face as managers. Unlike in the real world, they have their fellow learners’ support, immediate feedback, and the chance to try again.
2. Ritualize Learning Through Artifacts
Rituals, like birthday celebrations or other important milestones, are part of every culture. So, why not ritualize the process of learning itself? Rituals involve creating artifacts, which are a physical representation of what you’re celebrating (for example, a piece of cake from a birthday party or a thoughtful gift you receive). It creates a fun memory.
SweetRush Creative Director Hernan Muñoz explains, “An artifact is something you hold sacred. It’s a symbol you put significance on. It gives importance to a moment. If you introduce an artifact, it becomes easier to rally people around it … Rather than putting the responsibility solely on your facilitator, it shifts some of that to the artifact.”
Some food for thought:
- Task a cohort completing their learning journey to leave words of encouragement for the next cohort that is just beginning. While the two cohorts are on different tracks, one cheers on the next, which both groups enjoy. You always do (or at least feel) better when a buddy cheers you on.
- To really make it a memorable learning journey, our Director of Learning Experience Design Clare Dygert suggests planting a tree or bush as a ritual that participants can do individually, on their own schedule. From the ritual, the artifact will bloom to serve as a reminder of the experience. And it’s sustainable!
3. Prioritize Time For Pauses, Reflection, And Rest
When you exercise, do you do 1,000 reps non-stop? No; that would be dangerous! So, why then do we expect to use our brains nonstop with little rest? Studies indicate that rest is essential in learning new skills and making memories. As learning designers, we need to create brain space for learners.
A few tips:
- Build rest into your learning journey to help learners convert new skills to long-term memory. In our “always on” world, learners may need some gentle nudging to give themselves permission to rest. Help learners manage their cognitive loads in online learning by allowing space for them to sit back and absorb it.
- Encourage learners to reflect outside if possible. Getting outside (away from screens) and into nature can be the antidote to screen stress. Even just 20 minutes. Just because it’s online learning doesn’t mean that we can’t create an activity in which learners can reflect on what they learned in nature. If you include an activity as part of a learning journey that encourages reflection and/or journaling, this gives learners the push they need to peel themselves away from their screens and engage their minds. When relaxed, the brain can make connections that would not have happened slumped over a laptop, responding to a flurry of emails or instant messages. Let learners connect with nature and themselves!
- Don’t forget your accessibility lens! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1 billion people have a disability. Encourage time in nature but don’t assume each of your learners can go on a nature walk (or walk at all). Give your learners time and space to get to nature on their terms. It may take some learners longer than others, so build that into the experience.
Whether you are building communities, ritualizing learning with artifacts, encouraging time in nature, or <insert your own great idea here>, know that you’re not alone in this struggle to keep learners engaged! In our distracted world, we’re competing for learner attention. But people want to learn and they want to be engaged while learning. Put the learner at the heart of your design and start with empathy—you’ll be amazed by the creative and unexpected ideas that emerge.
Check out our latest report, Current Trends in Learning and Development & Learning Experience Design, for more data, insights, and creative solutions.